Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Isn't she a sweetie? Photo taken from the excellent site Serial No. 3817131 by photographer Rachel Papo, a former female IDF soldier herself.

But girl, I'd rather not see you toting an assault rifle like that. Call me old-fashioned, but I am against women in combat roles. Of course Israel is a case apart, and there have been times in Israels history when I wouldn't have frowned upon a pic like above. Take the 1948 War of Independence e.g.. That war was the equivalent of a fight between a newborn still wet from the womn and five kindergarten bullies. A "nation" on a handkerchief of land numbering no more than perhaps 650,000 people, give and take the population of Boise, Idaho, facing a ruthless simultaneous attack by five Arab armies. This was literally a battle for mere survival. Had the Israelis lost, the Nazi holocaust would in all likelihood have had a Middle Eastern epilogue. Miraculously, they won. And it was possible only through a rigorous mobilization including the drafting of women, of which an estimated 12,000 reportedly saw combat. A special corps was created for them, the "Chen", or "Women's Corps". However, that same war of 1948 marked until recently the only occasion whereby Israeli women actively served in the frontlines. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1949, the Chen was restructurized and women were no longer allowed in combat units. Of course there has been ever since the compulsory military service, with the 1959 Defense Service Law stipulating that "all citizens and permanent residents of the State of Israel are required to perform military service..." and that "...all women between the ages of 18 and 26, who are physically fit, unmarried, have not borne children, and have not objected on religious grounds or grounds of conscience must fulfill their military obligation."

As it became clear over the years that Israel was more than capable of warding off any Arab attack, the need for extra "womanpower" was less felt, and so, with regards to the enlistment of women, the 1959 Law was often used loosely. This 1988 article, based on The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA Factbook, states that "...only about 50 percent of the approximately 30,000 females eligible annually were inducted. Nearly 20 percent of eligible women were exempted for "religious reasons"; nearly 10 percent because they were married; and most of the remaining 20 percent were rejected as not meeting minimum educational standards (eighth grade during the 1980s)."

The last years of the 20th century saw a shift in that attitude however. In 1999, the IDF announced that the year after women would begin serving as combat soldiers. First, in early 2000, women were deployed in artillery units, followed by infantry and armored units and elite forces. Israel's Navy, the Sea Corps, placed female sailors in its diving repair unit. As for now, the issue is still largely academic, since at the beginning of 2004, the total number of female soldiers in combat units was... 450. Personally, I may hope that this meagre number is a reflection of the realization, among the broader part of Israeli society, that women should be bringers of life, and not of death. Don't get me wrong. I think that women can play a great role in the military. Remember that any army is like a knife, that the cutting edge can only have effect when it is sustained by the mass of the blade. Logistics, medical assignments and intelligence come to mind as ideal domains for female troops. But combat roles? No way. At least not for me. And that goes for any army, not just the IDF.

What's your take on that?


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